West Penn Power to pay $105 million in Irwin woman's death

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The family of an Irwin woman killed after being shocked and burned for 20 minutes in her own yard when a power line fell on her has settled a lawsuit against West Penn Power for $105 million.

That's just $4 million less than a jury verdict returned after a nearly four-week trial late last year.

"It is a ringing endorsement of the jury's verdict in this case," said Shanin Specter, the attorney who represented the Goretzkas in the case. "This is West Penn Power saying the jury got it right, and that is a very important statement that the civil justice system can work."

The company confirmed the settlement and said it is awaiting approval by the courts. It offered no further comment.

Carrie Goretzka, 39, was inside her home on June 2, 2009, when the electricity went out. It was a clear day, and when she looked outside, she saw trees in her yard on fire.

Ms. Goretzka went to her car to retrieve her cell phone to call 911 when a line fell on her.

Her daughters, then 2 and 4 years old, as well as her mother-in-law, looked on helplessly as she was shocked.

Her mother-in-law, JoAnn Goretzka, burned her hands trying to help.

It took 20 minutes before crews arrived to shut off the power.

As part of the settlement and an agreement with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Mr. Specter said, West Penn has also agreed to retrain all of its linemen and inspect all of its existing power line splices to ensure that they are connected properly.

The line at the Goretzka house had fallen twice before the incident in June 2009.

The linemen must be retrained within one year, and the infrared inspections must be done within three years.

West Penn Power, a subsidiary of First Energy Corp., operates 26,000 miles of power lines in Western Pennsylvania.

During the trial, Mr. Specter presented evidence that linemen for West Penn were not properly cleaning the splices on the power lines with a wire brush as had been recommended by the manufacturer.

The jury that heard the case deliberated less than two hours.

"The death of Carrie Goretzka has left a hole in the family that can't be solved by financial compensation," Mr. Specter said. "It doesn't replace Carrie as a mother, a wife, a daughter and daughter-in-law. She was the glue of that family."

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Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2620.


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